Muscle reigns over machine in civic polls
Subhas swings into action to ‘save’ Salt Lake
Hoodlums in police net on poll-eve
Dear voter, your ballot has been cast
Diff’rent strokes
Former Ulfa rebel gunned down
Action group Ulfa men die in encounter
Traders in Tripura bear brunt of ethnic rift
Sarkar sues Cong MLA
Jamir Cabinet walks accord tightrope

Calcutta, June 25 
Technology took a backseat in Sunday’s civic polls as political parties used sheer muscle power to jam booths equipped with machines meant to make things swifter and smoother for the electorate. Result: Winding queues of disgruntled voters under the scorching sun.

The electronic voting machine, used for the first time in civic polls, came a cropper as many a voter returned home, refusing to queue up to exercise a democratic right.

Cadres of the CPM, Trinamul Congress and the Congress systematically jammed booths in various areas to prevent genuine voters from casting their votes.

This left the field open to party ‘activists’, who swung into action, casting false votes while their comrades crowded the booths, ensuring that the queue moved at snail’s pace.

The administration, of course, turned a blind eye to the goings-on. “The party workers took advantage of the sweltering heat, knowing well that many voters would decide not to stand for hours to cast their votes,” a section of officials said.

The policemen, crowding every ward, remained in the wait-and-watch mode, as they had been instructed to step in only if violence broke out. Preventing systematic jamming and rigging, clearly, did not fall under their ambit of poll duties.

Reports of rigging poured in from all over, with each party resorting to booth-jamming in its respective strongholds.

Their modus operandi was simple. While a number of party followers took up position in the queue to prolong the wait for the genuine voters, election agents inside the booth would needlessly challenge voters owing allegiance to the “opposite” party in a bid to delay the entire poll process.

Some examples:

n A woman, Shara Banu, who went to cast her vote, was challenged by the CPM agent at Judge Abdul Bari Primary School, in Metiabruz, in the port area. She was allowed to vote after an argument that lasted for half an hour, while others waited outside.

A large number of voters were left standing in front of Andrews School, at Selimpur, in south Calcutta. With the booth jammed by party activists, the line refused to budge till PWD minister Kshiti Goswami stepped in and ensured a smooth flow of votes.

The long queue outside St. Paul’s College, on Amherst Street, in north Calcutta, was a study in still life. Shaibal Roy returned home, disgusted, after waiting for two hours in the morning.

Voters at Nabaratna School in Metiabruz suffered similar booth jamming, forcing many to beat a hot, hasty retreat.

Tavrej Alam, a voter of Abdul Bari School alleged that the CPM cadre were responsible for the booth-jamming and were delaying the election process.

S. Alam complained that he had waited nearly a hour and a half at Mithaitala, in ward 138, to cast his vote. “But I still could not manage. What’s the use, then, of introducing electronic voting machines?” he demanded.

Deputy inspector-general of police A. M. Khan, in charge of elections in Metiabruz, said he had to send his officers to the area several times to check why there were such long queues.

Officers at Lalbazar admitted that the poll process was slowed down by the long queues. “We didn’t expect this problem after the installation of the electronic voting machine,” said an officer.    

Calcutta, June 25 
The return of Subhas Chakraborty. That sums up the story of Sunday’s muncipal elections in Salt Lake City.

With the transport minister in the forefront yet again, the CPM forced the Trinamul Congress and BJP on the backfoot in the Bidhannagar municipality polls.

The return of Subhas, following months of political tug-of-war with the party high command, was engineered by chief minister Jyoti Basu and a section of leaders at Alimuddin Street.

“I had to respond, setting aside the hurt that I harbour at the attitude shown by the leadership. After all, it is my party, in the service of which I have spent nearly a lifetime,” Chakraborty told The Telegraph on Sunday afternoon. “I see myself as a soldier who cannot sit at home when the air is filled with war cries,” he added.

Earlier, the Alimuddin Street mandarins had virtually shut the doors on Chakraborty, keeping him out of all pre-poll meetings. Chakraborty’s detractors, namely members of the Amitava Nandy camp, finally agreed to the reinstatement of the party’s poll manager extraordinare, after realising that without Subhas’ presence, the party could take a beating in Salt Lake.

But then, party candidates started queuing up at Chakraborty’s door, asking for his support. And just before the polls, Basu asked Chakraborty to set aside his personal grievances and help the party retain Salt Lake. The transport minister could not refuse his mentor and mobilised his men in the past four days.

On Sunday, Salt Lake was swarming with Subhas’ army. “I hope that after my participation in the poll process, a section in the party will stop saying that I am soft towards Mamata,” signed off the man of the moment.

Ambulance for the aged: Medical Bank provided a free ambulance service to 22 elderly and invalid persons to reach booths on Sunday.The ambulance made a door-to-door visit to pick up the voters, who had called to avail of the services, after announcements in this regard were made in leading newspapers of the city.    

Calcutta, June 25 
Several trouble-makers who had entered the city to disrupt the civic elections were arrested in a flushout operation over the past 24 hours.

Twenty-five persons were picked up from the premises of a reputed socio-religious organisation in Gariahat on Saturday night.

The arrests were made after the police caught a few men for suspicious movement near Bijon Setu. They told the police that more of their associates were at the organisation premises.

“They could not explain their sudden visit to the city,” the police said.

The police also intercepted several cars carrying political workers who were trying to sneak into the city from the districts.

Deputy commissioner (headquarters) Nazrul Islam said that two lorries were stopped near Vidyasagar Setu today. Both were carrying followers of a political party. Posters saying “on election duty” were pasted on the vehicles to hoodwink the police.

Political workers also tried to enter the city on Sunday in an ambulance, but were stopped in the Hare Street police station area. The occupants managed to flee, but the driver was caught and the vehicle was seized.

A bus was also seized from Phoolbagan, east Calcutta, after plainclothes policemen patrolling the area intercepted it and found 54 persons inside. The commuters tried to pass themselves off as wedding guests from Kanthi.

The deputy commissioner said that they were told to identify the house where the ceremony would take place. “But they could not,” he added.

At Entally, firearms and ammunition were found on two men picked up from a taxi. The car has been impounded.

Islam said that the flushout scared the criminals sneaking into the city.

“That is why there was no major violence during the polls,” he added.    

Calcutta, June 25 
Both sides in the contest, CPM and Trinamul, rigged the best they could. This reporter was witness to the fraud in which the CPM plays the lead role. Elsewhere, it was Trinamul or the BJP

It was not a nice way to wake up on Sunday morning after a gruelling night shift at a newspaper office. My father was saying my mother was possibly being beaten up. We live in Karunamayee Housing Estate in Salt Lake, an area which comes under Ward 15 of the municipality. The most “distinguished” ward in Salt Lake, it had sent up Dilip Gupta of the CPM, the current municipal chairman. My family believes in inner-party democracy. My father thinks one’s politics is one’s own and does not say which party he votes for. I think all political parties are equally dispensable. But my mother is a BJP activist, which was the problem.

She had been up since morning at the poll booth at FE municipal school nearby. She had cast her vote when a mob of around 400 men, allegedly CPM supporters, stormed in. They charged into all the rooms and threw out the polling agents of all other parties. When local BJP leader Shishir Ganguly confronted them, they abused him and beat him up. Reports of CPM gangs throwing a bomb at the Baisakhi housing complex also filtered in.

My father, under the impact of both pieces of news, woke me up and left for the arena. He would vote as well. He came back to say Ma was all right, but his vote was not — it had been cast. The war was over, the CPM men had cleared the turf of others.

I had decided not to exercise my democratic right this time, but now I wanted to check if it was still intact. I reached the booth at 2.40 pm, accompanied by our neighbour, his wife and their daughter. My vote was well-preserved. So was our neighbour’s. But somebody had done the job for his wife and his daughter.

There was a pattern in the rigging. Votes had been cast for the ones with alleged BJP sympathies, real or imagined. I was exempted possibly for my connection with the press. My neighbour, also exempted, nurtures suspected CPM sympathies.

Every second person we met said his or her vote had been rigged. “It is the usual ‘scientific’ rigging,” was the general opinion.

Seething, the three women — my neighbour’s wife, her daughter and I — cornered the presiding officer. “Where is my vote?” hollered kakima. But the officials refused to rise to the occasion. “Why are you yelling at us?” one asked with lowered eyes. “How can we know who’s who?” Obviously, no one had told them about checking the identity of voters. Then who should know? “The agents,” said an official. But the agents were nowhere in sight.

A face I knew approached me. “Why have you all come so late? How can you expect the votes to be there at this time?” There were still 10 minutes to go for 3.00 pm.

Something inside me snapped. I caught sight of a CPM supporter with a badge proudly bearing the name. I stopped him and said: “So you are one of the goons behind the rigging.” It was an unwise thing to say. He started rolling his sleeves up before some of his friends dragged him away.

I was still arguing when there was a sudden furore. Our neighbour’s daughter had gone up to the policemen and demanded what they were doing all this while. They told her it was not their business to look out for rigging. They would only step in if there was violence. To that she said that, frankly, she thought they were a bunch of useless men. That stirred them up finally and they pounced on her, if verbally, in unison.

After some more bouts of a free-for-all, we left.

It’s still not clear whose responsibility it is to see that the elections are “free and fair”.    

Calcutta, June 25 
It’s 11.30 on a sultry June morning. Classes over, Aman, Brinda, Khushboo and Roshni head straight for a splash in the swimming pool. Following the fun ’n games in the cool waters, the kids and all their other friends troop into the lunch room.

These are all “differently able” children leading perfectly normal lives in a school which gives them hope and dignity.

What started as one woman’s crusade “to do something for the intellectually-challenged children of society” has now graduated into “a centre of excellence” for treating kids with “special problems” in eastern India.

The individual: Dr Sharda Fatehpuria. The institute: Manovikas Kendra.

Recounts Fatehpuria, “While I was doing my Ph.D in mental retardation in the early 70s, I met a number of special children and their helpless parents. Witnessing parents treating their children as lunatics and keeping them locked in a room, I took the decision to do my best to enable these special children to be useful to and a part of society.”

Married into a “liberal and progressive Marwari family”, Fatehpuria embarked on her mission in 1974 with just two children on the Abhinav Bharti premises on 11, Pretoria Street. Twenty-five years later, the one-room clinic has metamorphosed into Manovikas Kendra Rehabilitation and Research Institute for the Handicapped (MRIH), on a sprawling campus spread over one acre on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

Today, the centre, with 45 teachers and a total staff strength of 110, provides for free the latest in scientific training, research, prevention and rehabilitation programmes for the 500 regular students.

The out-patient department treats many more. “We have an expert team of teachers, doctors, psychologists and councillors to take care of these children,” explains Fatehpuria.

“Proper rehabilitation of the special children in the mainstream is our main focus. We have designed our programmes accordingly, with emphasis on functional academics, which the children can put to use in their lives,” explains Anamika Sinha, in charge of the academic programme. “The group of students is a heterogenous bunch with different types of problems. Our academic programmes are framed keeping in mind the individual’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Vocational training is an integral part of the development programme at MRIH. “We expose them to various vocations and, depending on their aptitude, we push them towards a particular stream. The skills they acquire equip them to contribute economically and strive towards self-dependence,” says Anindita Chatterjee, a clinical psychologist working with the children for the last eight years.

Walk through the Manovikas campus and you find spirited teams of youngsters engaged in various kinds of vocational training: weaving, durree-making, needlework, machine-knitting, tailoring, printing on paper and fabric, spice processing, baking, catering and handicraft.

The handicraft and bakery products made by the children find their way into some of the biggest shops in town, from Charnock City to India’s Hobby Centre. “We have our share of success stories to tell. Take Angshuman Halwasia, a hearing-impaired and mentally-retarded student of MRIH, who is now a successful professional painter,” smiles Kuheli C. Dasgupta, in charge of public awareness at the centre.

But helping the kids help themselves is just half the work done.

What’s equally important is showing parents how to deal with these children of a so-called lesser god. Saptoparna Choudhury, a key member of the Early Intervention Centre, remarks: “Although we try our best to make the children socially compatible, the awareness of the parents is absolutely vital to our task.”

This Early Intervention Centre is open to the one month to five years age group. “We use different kinds of stimuli to make their physical movement normal and develop the sense of touch, sound and make them aware of the environment,” explains Choudhury. “The earlier the children are brought in the greater the chances of their normal and natural growth and development.”

But in most cases, parents haunted by the “stigma” of an “abnormal baby”, are late in approaching the centre. “So, the mental healing of parents is very important. When they come here and see children with disabilities doing so many things, they become hopeful of their child’s recovery and learn to cope with the social pressures,” explains Kuheli.

The delay is often caused by the doctors’ failure to identify the the child’s medical problems as well. “At MRIH, we first conduct an IQ assessment, diagnose their problems and then decide on the therapies and programmes best suited to the children,” explains Dr Swagata Sinha, who runs the outpatient department.

Managing the mammoth infrastructure and modern facilities for the physical and mental development of the kids is, of course, no child’s play. The total annual expenses at MRIH add up to Rs 60 lakh and more.

“We are primarily dependent on donations from our well-wishers. From day one, we have received the support of the community, and big industrial houses have always stood by us. Recently, the government has also come forward and extended its support. The Central government grants 50 per cent of the annual recurring expenditure,” says Fatehpuria. While no fees are charged, some parents do contribute significantly to the institute. The products prepared by children create an important revenue stream.

At the end of the day, the lady in her late 50s somehow feels responsible for the well-being of two million “differently able” children throughout Eastern India.

“With a little bit of support, I hope I can take care of all of them,” she smiles, waving goodbye to some of the kids returning home after yet another sunny day of work and play at Manovikas Kendra.    

Jorhat, June 25 
The bullet-riddled body of surrendered Ulfa leader Tarun Phukan, alias Amrit, was recovered from a paddy field near Amguri town in upper Assam’s Sivasagar district this morning.

Two empty AK-47 cartridges and Amrit’s motorcycle were found at the site.

Police suspect the Ulfa of having killed Amrit, who was a “second lieutenant” in the banned outfit before surrendering with 531 other militants at the Rang Ghar in Sivasagar on April 4.

The mass surrender, the largest-ever in the state, was termed by the media “as the last nail in the Ulfa’s coffin”.

The Rang Ghar, an amphitheatre built by an Ahom king, was chosen as the venue of the surrender ceremony as it was at that very site that the Ulfa was conceived in 1979. Sources said Amrit, who was on the Ulfa “hitlist”, returned home from Amguri at 8.30 pm last night. People living in the vicinity of the paddy field where his body was found recalled hearing gunshots at 9.15 pm.

A couple of persons spotted the former Ulfa militant’s bullet-riddled body early this morning and immediately informed the police. Asked why Amrit was moving about without security, the Sivasagar superintendent of police said the former rebel was offered guards, but he turned down the offer.

Senior police officials visited the site where Amrit’s body was found. Several former militants were also seen in the area. “The former militant’s killing could have far-reaching consequences. Surrendered rebels in the state might hit back at the Ulfa to avenge his murder,” a source said. Amrit, who joined the Ulfa in 1993, had told newspersons that he quit the banned outfit because he was disillusioned with life as a militant. “The Ulfa is no longer a revolutionary organisation. It has become a terrorist outfit,” he said.

Seeking the government’s help to begin life anew, the former militant leader said, “We hope the government will not give us the short shrift.” Amrit, who had been training Ulfa activists for four years before returning to the mainstream, said the killing of social activist Sanjoy Ghose was an indication of the outfit’s lack of interest in development of the state. Several other militants who laid down arms at the same venue openly criticised the Ulfa leadership.

The mass surrender, attended by Assam Governor Lt. Gen. (retd) S.K. Sinha and chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, was christened a “rehabilitation ceremony”.

Rebel held: A hardcore Ulfa rebel, identified as Brijen Tamuli, was today arrested at Teok in Jorhat district. A police team raided the Kachin-trained militant’s house and took him into custody, sources said.    

Guwahati, June 25 
Four Ulfa militants were killed in Assam by the Army yesterday.

Assistant foreign secretary of the Ulfa central committee Prashant Bora alias Pradeep Choudhury and three other militants of the action group of the outfit were shot dead by the Army in an encounter on Saturday in a reserve forest in Nagaon district bordering Karbi Anglong.

Defence sources said the Army had launched operations following a tip about the presence of the militants in the area. The militants opened fire and lobbed grenades on the troops. A junior commissioned officer sustained minor injuries.

The incident occurred at the Lutumai reserve forest in Nagaon.

The jawans fired back and the encounter continued for three hours, during which four Ulfa militants were killed. Three of the four militants killed have been identified as Prashant Bora, Bodu and Bharat Bordoloi, both members of the Ulfa’s action group.

An AK-56 rifle alongwith three magazines and 94 rounds, one 9 mm pistol along with a magazine and a Kenhood radio set, three ammunition pouches and incriminating documents were recovered from the slain militants.

“Further operations are on to capture the other Ulfa militants based on documents recovered,” defence officials said.

In a separate incident in Sonitpur district, six Adivasi Security Force militants were apprehended by the Army from Orang village near Itakhola. The militants have been identified as Nocodin Tirki, Banda Eka, Anthong Tirki, Mangulu Gaur and Joshita Tirki. Extorted cash to the tune of Rs 11,000, silver jewellery and incriminating documents were recovered from them.


Agartala, June 25 
Traders are bearing the brunt of the ethnic conflict in the Teliamura area of West Tripura district.

Groups of tribals looted at least five shops owned by non-tribals over the past three days. Goons also ransancked a cooperative society at Mungiabari and made off with cash and valuables worth Rs 2 lakh.

In another incident yesterday, a group of tribal women made an abortive attempt to loot a goods-laden truck at Atharomura on the Assam-Agartala highway.

Militants have directed tribals not to sell bamboo to non-tribals, triggering a breakdown in inter-community trade in the area.

On Thursday, a group of tribals went to the Central Reserve Police Force camp at Chakmaghat and complained that non-tribal traders had refused to sell them their wares.

The CRPF personnel later assaulted a group of non-tribals in the local market.

A source said tribals were losing out on money due to the militant-imposed ban on sale of bamboo to non-tribals. “The hatred between the two communities is so intense that non-tribals would rather buy something at a higher price from someone of their ilk than go to a tribal trader,” he said.

Wary of being taken to task by militants, tribals have also stopped going to markets where the majority of shops are owned by non-tribals.

“A group of All-Tripura Tiger Force militants led by Jiyon Debbarma is keeping vigil on tribals in the Teliamura area. No one would dare to violate the rebels’ diktat, irrespective of the necessity,” an official said.

Apprehending an outbreak of violence, district magistrate (west) Manish Kumar has announced an indefinite dusk-to-dawn curfew in Chakmaghat.

Official sources said the situation in the area was tense, but under control. However, the people do not appear to be comfortable with the presence of CRPF personnel.

After the assault on non-tribals on Thursday, a large group of people congregated in front of the deputy collector’s office and demanded that the CRPF camp in Chakmaghat be shifted elsewhere.    

Agartala, June 25 
Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar yesterday filed a defamation suit against Congress legislator Billal Mia, who recently accused the former of acquiring property with ill-gotten wealth.

Addressing a public rally on June 5, the state Youth Congress chief said Sarkar had purchased a flat in Calcutta’s Salt Lake area. He said the chief minister was a corrupt person and had no right to be at the helm of affairs.

Sarkar promptly reacted to the allegation, asking Mia to furnish evidence or tender an apology.    

Kohima, June 25 
Several Nagaland ministers have taken exception to certain observations in a booklet on the 16-point agreement that led to formation of the northeastern state in 1963.

Published by the PCC, the booklet — entitled Bedrock of Naga society — is aimed at silencing critics of the historic agreement. Evaluating the contents of the booklet, a section of ministers made a case for an “extensive debate” on the 16-point agreement. They said the booklet on the accord did not contain satisfactory answers to specific questions raised by various individuals and organisations.

Opposition leaders were more critical of the booklet, saying it was an attempt to hoodwink the people. Veteran politician and former Nagaland People’s Council chief Shurhozelie said the Congress-sponsored booklet “deliberately misinterpreted” the issue.

On Jamir’s contention that the Nagas had no other option but to accept the accord, Shurhozelie said it was high time the chief minister stopped making baseless statements. “If the Nagas actually had no choice but to sign the accord, why did he remain silent about it for so long. Hasn’t he been in power for the past 18 years?” he asked. The former NPC chief said he was not criticising the 16-point agreement, but the manner in which it was worked out by a handful of leaders claiming to represent Naga society.

“I have never talked about the merits and demerits of the accord. What I have always said is that the process of signing the agreement was wrong,” Shurhozelie said.

The Naga leader said the series of violent incidents following the signing of the agreement was testimony to the fact that the Naga leaders who signed it had erred in judgment.

“If there was no choice but to sign the pact, why were the Centre and the Naga National Council (Federal) forced to sign a ceasefire agreement four years later?” he said. However, former chief minister and Naga People’s Convention general secretary Thomas Jashokie defended the accord, saying it gave the Nagas the right to call Nagaland their own. He said the Congress may have published the booklet on the 1960 pact to clear confusion in the minds of the people.One of the signatories to the accord, Jashokie said it was unfortunate that several non-government organisations had disowned the accord after supporting it all these years.

Planning and development minister Imtisungit Jamir said the Centre should implement all clauses of the accord. He said any change in the funding pattern would be tantamount to violation of the historic pact.

The minister said there would be “no need to stick to previous agreements” if the dialogue between the Centre and Naga underground outfits bore fruit. Power minister K. Therie said the booklet did not reflect the government’s stand as it was published by the PCC and not the state Cabinet.



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